Back in the 90s, I had the pleasure of attending a Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted Animation Festival. This was a hugely popular show among college students that took place once a year at art house movie theaters across the country. I couldn’t tell you whether someone’s animated short was well animated or designed because all that really mattered to me was whether it could make me laugh my ass off. Unfortunately, the festival’s creators stopped making the show and the world of indie animation was left with a gaping hole. A number of years ago, Mike Judge (the creator of Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill) and Don Hertzfeldt (a renowned creator of short animated films and a Bay Area native) decided to fill this void by bringing back animated short films back into proper cinema. The show’s creators scoured the world looking for the best animated shorts, which they compiled for their biannual The Animation Show.

I watched the first two volumes of The Animation Show recently and for any animator out there who thinks they have some cool shit they’d like to show the world, this is a great (and possibly only) forum to show it on. Conceptually, The Animation Show is a great idea as it gives animators a chance to showcase their work that they otherwise would never get (unless they’re strictly meant to be used for a reel to land a job at one of the major animation houses). As to the quality of the individual shorts, I have to say I was quite disappointed in the selections made. Both volumes have a few shorts here or there that really blew me away, but overall I found myself completely bored out of my mind. Now some of you may say that I simply don’t appreciate or understand animation enough to enjoy these works. I call bullshit on that. I think working for an animation studio for 5 years qualifies me as one who both appreciates and understands the art. My problem with many if not most of the shorts selected for this show is that they either strictly rely on the novelty of computer animation to get by (examples: The Cathedral, Rock Fish, F.E.D.S.) or the short relies too heavily on a single and simple concept that wears thin after about a minute (example: Guard Dog) or they were too avant-garde for my personal taste (examples: Moving Illustrations of Machines, The Meaning of Life). I also found a number of shorts to already feel too dated (examples: some of the aforementioned shorts and The Adventures of Ricardo).

There were also a good number of shorts I enjoyed and some of which I liked immensely. One that really strikes out for me is called Aria (directed by Pjotr Sapegin). Its a very sad story about a woman who gets knocked up by a sailor on shore leave and she’s left to bear and raise the child alone. The woman waits for a long time on top of a hill for the sailor to return as he promised. One day he finally appears, but the woman discovers that he’s found another woman and whats worse, the man snatches the baby away from the woman to keep for himself. Its a haunting and beautiful piece that stood out among the shorts on the show. Another favorite short is Fallen Art (directed by Tomek Baginski). This is a twisted story about a sort of mad scientist who orders a military sergeant to throw soldiers off a high plank to fall to their deaths on the ground below. A photographer than takes a picture of the bloodied and broken body and gives the picture to the scientist. The scientist takes the picture and arranges them with the rest of his dead soldier pictures. A behemoth industrial film camera then takes all these pictures together and plays them, creating a film of a dancing dead soldier. Its weird and twisted, but highly entertaining and original.

I don’t know if Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt prefer dark and dreary subject matters or if most animators are depressed, lonely souls who view the world with apocalyptic, cynical eyes. However, I was a bit surprised by how many of the shorts in volumes 1 and 2 carry dark and somber themes. Few of these shorts are cheerful and for any of you Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks fans expecting short versions of your favorite films, you will be disappointed by the crop of selections in these volumes. A few of the shorts felt like reel shorts designed to land the animator a gig at an animated studio or a visual effects house (example: Rock Fish). As subjective as the selection of films for a festival may be, I don’t think these are the types of films that best represent the greatest animation the world has to offer. Films that feel like they are nothing more than an animated version of a live-action science fiction/action film doesn’t utilize the medium of animation in the way I think it should be. Another short, F.E.D.S., had the same problem. This short took the animation style made popular in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and made a film about the people who work in grocery stores who serve customers samples. I mean really? This really needed to be an animated short rather than simply a live-action documentary short film? Again, this failed to take advantage of what the medium of animation offers and it was a poor selection on the part of Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt.

Overall, I enjoyed The Animation Show despite a few poorly chosen shorts. Its difficult to gauge on a numeric scale how good a compilation of vastly different short films are. It really comes down to how much your tastes align with the choices the show’s creators make. I didn’t agree with many of the selections made, but the few that I thought were great were almost exceptional and that almost made up for the bad ones.

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